U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched a $40 billion global health initiative that he says could save the lives of tens of millions of women and children worldwide.
World leaders gathered at the United Nations this week have been reviewing progress on the ambitious 15-year plan agreed in 2000 known as the Millennium Development Goals. These eight goals aim to end extreme poverty, hunger and disease.
But with only five years to go, several of the goals are lagging behind schedule. Two of the goals in greatest jeopardy of not being met by 2015 are Goals 4 and 5 - reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the 21st century it is unacceptable for women and children to die from malnutrition, childbirth, and treatable and preventable diseases, and called for change.
"We can do this by addressing the savage inequalities that affect women and children," he said. "By expanding access to basic healthcare, simple blood tests, a doctor's advice, a trained birth attendant and immunizations."
The initiative has received $40 billion in new commitments for the next five years from governments, the private sector, philanthropic groups, international organizations and civil society.
The secretary-general said the money will be a wise investment in the success of all eight Millennium Development Goals, because when women and children's health and mortality are improved that has a multiplying effect on the success of the other goals -- which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, combating HIV/AIDS and promoting gender equality.
At the launch, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new joint effort between the United States, Britain and Australia, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"This five year alliance aims to increase access to family planning and reduce maternal and neo-natal deaths in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa," she said. "Our effort will contribute to the goal of increasing access to family planning by 2015 for 100 million women who now lack it. It will also boost the number of skilled birth attendants, babies delivered in clinics or hospitals, and women and newborns who receive quality medical care."
Also participating in Wednesday's launch were the prime ministers of China, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Norway, as well as the presidents of Rwanda and Malawi.